The new Ranger Station at the Santa Barbara Zoo | Credit: Courtesy

Kids can now walk through National Parks at the Santa Barbara Zoo. The short but sweet trails are teeming with butterflies, Channel Island foxes, birds, and chipmunks — some of the California State Wildlife ready to be discovered. 

Even though the critters are plastic (acting as the hidden objects of scavenger hunts), the Zoo’s new Ranger Station brings a bit of the wild into the zoo’s walls. Located across from the Verandah overlooking the Australian Walkabout, the Ranger Station is now officially open and is meant to offer a connection to the great outdoors through various interactive experiences.

Guests get directions from the Ranger | Credit: Courtesy

“The Zoo’s new Ranger Station represents our commitment to environmental education and fostering a love for nature,” shared JJ McLeod, Director of Education at the Santa Barbara Zoo. “We believe that by providing these immersive experiences, we can inspire a new generation of conservationists and create lasting connections between people and wildlife.”

Unlike many of the Zoo’s animals, the wildlife highlighted by the Ranger Station are not far from home. 

“Our conservation team has really made an effort to focus on our local conservation, because we’re here, we can learn so much, and we can go out and actually make a change within our ecosystem,” McLeod said. 

Along the wall outside the station are portraits of the Zoo’s big six in terms of state wildlife conservation: the sea otter, monarch butterfly, red-legged frog, California condor, channel island fox, and snowy plover. About 50 feet away from the sea otter’s adorable portrait is a kayak for kids to climb into, strategically placed to remind visitors to maintain their distance from animals to keep them safe.

[Click to enlarge] Interactive trail guides add to the fun (left) and fossils are part of the interact exhibits | Credit: Callie Fausey

Visitors are told to take a hike on one of the four trails leading away from the station: Channel Islands, Yosemite, Redwood, and Joshua Tree. Along the way, families are reminded to leave no trace and are encouraged to spot the real native plants from each park growing along the paths. Campers-in-training, including the Zoo’s campers, are taught camping etiquette, including how to set up tents, build birdhouses, store food, and roast marshmallows around a campfire. They’re encouraged to camp responsibility and taught to respect nature while dispelling fears of the outside world. 

The trails leading to the backyard campground branch out from the main scene: The Ranger Station, where people like Ranger Whitney and Ranger Gracie educate kids about the natural world that flourishes in California’s protected spaces. In the center of it all are the dioramas of creatures like great horned owls, gray foxes, and California condors, as well as snake skins and preserved butterflies. 

Furs of surprisingly soft animals — possum, coyote, badger — are placed along the walls for a tactile experience. Through aspects such as braille descriptions, visitors of all abilities can deepen their understanding of the natural world. Rangers will have something new for their visitors every day, and will always need help with their regular daily responsibilities. 

“This is the first step where kids can come and say that they went on the Redwoods National Park trail and they saw a fox,” McLeod said. “We’re just constantly trying to teach them about nature while still having fun.”

Included with regular Zoo admission or membership, guests can explore mini trails, spot local animals and plant life, and engage in various interactive experiences.

For more information about the Zoo’s attractions, visit

A fitting message at the Ranger Station from John Muir: “ Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” | Credit: Callie Fausey


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